If you’re kitting out a workshop for electronics, what do you need? Well, a soldering iron – that’s a must of course – then there’s tweezers and diagonal cutters. Oh, a pad can be useful. There’s that thing of course, you know the one, it does the gripping in different angles – what’s it called? Are we forgetting anything? Wouldn’t it be useful if someone just put everything together into one place?
That’s exactly what SparkFun has done with its two tool‑kits: the Beginner’s Tool Kit ($49.95) and the Deluxe Tool Kit ($224.95). We took a look at the Deluxe version, which includes a Weller soldering station, heat gun, multimeter, and 20 other little bits and pieces that you need to make great electronics.
Keeping a kit like this affordable, while complete, is a balancing act. The hardware needs to be good enough to provide users with a pleasant experience, but at the same time, keep the cost manageable. Everything in this kit works and is perfectly good enough to get started with, but there’s not many bells and whistles, and at this price, that’s what we’d expect – after all, you could spend more than the price of this kit on just a multimeter.
Looking at this multimeter, for example, it has all the basic features that you need for electronics, but if you’re using it regularly, getting an auto-ranging meter can be useful. The soldering iron is a decent iron with adjustable power, but for trickier jobs, better temperature control may be more useful. Conversely, the third hand, for instance, is much nicer than the cheaper options, with hinged metal joints.
Knowing where to draw the line on price and functionality is a difficult skill. This kit has clearly been put together by people who are (or have been) hobbyists, and know what you need. You could get this and never need another bit of kit for building electronics, other than perhaps replacing the consumables like wire and solder – well, the wire anyway, the 113 g (or quarter of a pound if you prefer) of special-blend lead-free solder should last you quite a while.
There are a few big-ticket items that more advanced hobbyists might use that aren’t included (such as a bench power supply and an oscilloscope), but these aren’t needed for getting started, and would add quite a lot of cost to the kit. These are also things that we got quite far without having, and certainly aren’t essential to hobby electronics.
The big advantage of buying things in a kit is that you get the bits you need even if you don’t know they’re the bits you need, and this kit really delivers in this area. It’s nice to see little things like the screwdriver or craft knife that could easily be missed out of a soldering kit, but at the same time, they’re things you need. Sure, you might have them at home, but if you’re kitting out a workshop, having them all together in one package is ideal. There’s even a small water bottle included, for keeping water to top up your soldering iron cleaning pad. Another slightly surprising, but useful, entry is the heat gun. Again, this isn’t something you’ll typically see in electronics kits, but is actually a useful bit of hardware for a couple of tasks: heat-shrink tubing, and hot-air rework. The former of these is basically an upgrade to electrical tape for keeping your connections insulated, and the latter helps for fixing mistakes or breaks in PCBs, particularly with surface-mount components (it’s not a full-on hot-air rework station, but can just about be pressed into service for simple jobs).
People outside of the USA, be warned, the soldering iron and heat gun are only rated to 110 V, so you’ll need a transformer, as well as a socket adapter, if using it somewhere with different voltages.
You can buy most of the parts from SparkFun separately (only the water bottle isn’t available), but it is (by our count) about 10% cheaper to get the kit rather than buying the individual components, so even if there are one or two bits you don’t need, it may still be cheaper to get the kit and then lend these to a friend in need.
This kit only contains the bits for putting together electronics, and not the bits for electronics themselves. There are no resistors, Arduinos, cables, breadboards, or anything like that. This kit is for putting electronics together, not designing or prototyping them, so it’s the perfect companion to soldering kits or prototyping kits (such as the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit).
Many people will prefer to build up their toolset bit by bit, and this often makes sense if you’re just starting out with something new (you might want to take a look at the SparkFun Beginner’s Kit). As you continue in electronics, the Deluxe kit is a good point of reference for extra bits and pieces that you might want to expand your fledgling workshop. However, if you’re looking to kit out a workshop with a cost-effective electronics kit, this kit should give you everything you need to work through most basic and intermediate electronics projects.
SparkFun $224.95 sparkfun.com
Everything you need to get started building electronics.